Yongsan Garrison schools to close in June after six decades of teaching military kids
By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 16, 2018
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — U.S. elementary, middle and high schools on Yongsan will close at the end of this school year as the military population shifts to its new headquarters south of Seoul, officials said Friday.
Seoul American Elementary School and Seoul American Middle High School have served the children of soldiers and others stationed in South Korea for decades.
But Yongsan’s population has declined sharply as U.S. Forces Korea and the other commands moved to Camp Humphreys, which has its own schools, as part of a long-delayed relocation plan.
“The decision and request by the command to no longer operate schools in Seoul is based on the pace and requirements of the Yongsan transformation efforts,” the military said in a press release.
Officials had said they would decide this month on whether to keep the Yongsan schools open beyond the 2017-18 school year for children remaining in Seoul.
The principal of Seoul American Middle High School, Donald “Willy” Williams, said administrators had been informed earlier Friday that the schools would close at the end of the current academic year.
The decision was also announced by U.S. Forces Korea and the Department of Defense Education Activity, known as DODEA.
USFK said eligible children would be transitioned into schools at Camp Humphreys, a sprawling base that resembles an American suburb in the rural area of Pyeongtaek. Others will receive access to international schools and other educational options in the Seoul area as part of what is known as a non-DOD school program, or NDSP.
“We know that there are going to be some kids that are left here,” Williams said Friday during a town hall for the community in a chapel at Yongsan.
“DODEA will pay for kids to go for local options,” he added. “We have let the international schools know that we are closing.”
A meeting will be held Nov. 28 to provide more information for parents at the Seoul American Middle High School auditorium.
The military is expected to maintain a presence at Yongsan for at least two more years. A nearby base known as K-16 is also to remain open, but garrison commander Col. Monica Washington said children there would not fall under the NDSP program and may have to be moved to Humphreys.
The schools are part of a system established by the military shortly after World War II to ensure an American education for the children of troops deployed overseas. Then-named Seoul American High School opened in 1959 when classes were held in Quonset huts. The two-story, brick building that houses the current school was completed in 1982.
The upper classes were combined this year into a Seoul American Middle High School, while the elementary school remained next door.
Parents at the town hall said the writing has been on the wall for a while, but the official announcement still took them by surprise.
“We were pretty shocked,” said Alli Davenport, who transferred to Yongsan with her husband and 6-year-old daughter three months ago. “But we are excited that she’s going to get to have a voucher to go off post so that she can continue to have a really high level of education.”
Davenport said she’ll miss the easy commute as it currently takes her less than five minutes to walk her daughter to the elementary school.
“Now it’s going to be the bus or the subway … but I know that it’s going to be worth it,” she said.
Darryl Brake of Detroit said his 12-year-old daughter had expected to finish middle school on Yongsan then go back to Virginia for high school, but he’s confident she’ll adjust.
“She’s going to have a little curve ball,” he said. “The base is moving so we knew that there would be these kinds of challenges so we’ve just got to work through them.”